On Thursday (Jan. 8) afternoon, after a long day dominated by PBS and an unfortunately healthy (therefore meager) WeTV lunch, the Television Critics Association received a treat courtesy of AMC: A first peek at the cable network's six-episode miniseries remake of "The Prisoner."
My first reaction: If the original "The Prisoner" was a major influence (probably an understatement) on "Lost," "Lost" is, in turn, a major influence (probably an understatement) on the remake of "The Prisoner." Even based on five minutes of clips, I'm prepared to venture a guess that this "Prisoner" will be much less surreal than the original, but that there will be a far greater emphasis on conspiracy, mythology and actual tangible mystery (as opposed to the original's mystery-of-the-unknown).
The new Village, filmed in an actual community in the desert of Namibia, is distinctive and visually striking, an assortment of A-frames and anachronistic structures in the middle of mountains and sand. It's absolutely alien enough to satisfy fans.
Jim Caviezel's #6 is American, which saves us the distraction of Jesus' British accent, though Lennie James' #147 also seems to be American, meaning that The Village is a global receptacle of sorts.
And even though the existence of a single, irreducible #2 may offend fan sensibilities, the fact that that #2 is played by Sir Ian McKellen will surely salve any wounds. He's everything one would want in the role and his "Be seeing you" was chilling.
After the clips, the main cast, producer Trevor Hopkins and director Nick Hurran answered questions.
After the bump, I've compiled their answers to a few of the questions that are most burning for fans...
On generally remaking a classic: "We’re all total huge fans of the original, but we realized very early on that what we couldn’t do is copy it and that what Bill Gallagher wanted to do was to reinterpret it and create something that was – it could be a thriller, it had many different possibilities. We wanted to be as unfathomable and enigmatic as the original." (Trevor Hopkins)
On adapting the main themes of the original: "Over the last few months, the question of freedom to make mistakes, should we be allowed to have that freedom where it enables us to make our own choice, even if that’s a bad choice and we make mistakes, or should we allow a society to control us, where everything will be protected for us and we’ll be very happy if we don’t have that freedom? Goodness me, when you look around and see perhaps that the state of play around us in the world, who knows whether it’s right or wrong. Those questions are left unanswered, but I think it becomes more poignant as we go on." (Nick Hurran)
On finding the proper location for the new Village: "We went to Australia, to Eastern Europe and eventually ended up in Africa in Namibia, and we had heard about this small town called Swampkumond, which is a turn-of-the-century German town surrounded by this incredible landscape. We needed to be close to a metropolis that would double as a city, which was, in the end, Cape Town, so it was a good destination, a very happy piece of shooting, and complicated, but wonderful." (Hopkins)
On using only a single #2: "[O]ne of the characteristics of the original was that in 17 episodes, the questions that you were invited to ask as to why and who is in charge and what are their motives, was never really answered. Hence, the enduring fascination, I think. The viewers are still guessing as to what was the meaning of it all. Well, this is different. By episode six, you know everything about The Village: Where it came from, where it’s going to, who created it, why they did it and what it’s like to actually live there. I think Bill Gallagher needed a 2 who was central to this story of the meaning of The Village, because he seems to be running it and to have it played by a number of characters would just be cute, but not to the point, and I’m very grateful because it gives me an absolutely wonderful part."
On whether or not the balloon-like Rover will appear: "Our Rover? Who knows. I mean, everybody, the first thing they do is go, 'Is the — is the white ball or rover there?' I think, in the original, there’s some marvelous stories... they had spent an awful lot of money making some fabulous contraption that would hover like a hovercraft and then sink down below the water like a submarine and then climb the walls of a building when required. And on the first day of filming, I think they say it came out, went into the water, sank, and never came up again. We might have had a similar sort of thing happening, but I couldn’t possibly say at the moment. But a rover may make an appearance. He’s a big part of what is 'The Prisoner,' I think." (Hurran)
On whether or not original mastermind Patrick McGoohan will make an appearance: "McGoohan, we asked to play a cameo in the piece, because it’s the perfect thing for him. Although he loved it, loved the casting that we got in it, he wasn’t able to travel and take part in it." (Hopkins)
On the implications of the global nature of The Village: "There was something about the original, where The Village was clearly British, you might even say English, if you understand that distinction. Even though the location was in Whales, it didn’t feel like that. It felt like a little English Disney place. Frankly, I’m more attracted to Bill Gallagher’s notion of 'The Prisoner' and The Village and it’s on a world scale. The implications are for us all. To have an American character at the center of it seems appropriate in a way it would not have been to that curious English feeling that saturated the original series." (McKellen)
On whether or not the update will reference or play off of the original: "There are a number, of course, of homages that the keen eye will see in what’s said, in what’s worn, in pieces of architecture. Of course, there are a number of salutes that we make to the fantastic beast that was created. I think it would be ashamed to take it to the next generation and not acknowledge what an extraordinary piece of work that was. I think it’s like less surreal, but it is as bizarre, in a good way." (Hurran)
On whether there could be another "Prisoner" miniseries if this one is successful: "There is a conclusion at the end of the sixth episode, but whether or not there would ever be more from AMC, I don’t really know. But there are choices in that conclusion." (Hopkins)
AMC will premiere "The Prisoner" in November of 2009.